Last week, we went 5-2 straight and versus “the number,” nailing the three biggies at the top of the list.
Let’s see how we do with the regular season’s final set, which is dripping with BCS implications.
TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thurs., Nov. 29, thru Sat., Dec. 1)
1) No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Georgia in SEC title game at Atlanta
Sat., Dec. 1 — 4 p.m. ET, CBS
This SEC championship game doubles as a national semifinal, but in our mind it’s also for all the marbles. Either the Crimson Tide or Bulldogs will earn the honor of winning the SEC’s seventh consecutive BCS championship with a victory over No. 1 Notre Dame in Miami on Jan. 7.
While quick to jump to the conclusion above, we’re slow to adopt the prevailing opinion that Alabama will beat Georgia.
If we had the choice, we’d take the Bulldog defense over the Tide’s. Georgia linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree are as good as it gets at their respective positions, and they’re just the beginning.
Despite the rock steady quarterbacking of junior A.J. McCarron, the Alabama offense will experience its share of three-and-outs.
When the Bulldogs have the football, the same can be said. The big question revolves around how Georgia triggerman Aaron Murray rises to the occasion.
Against the two toughest teams he’s played this season, Murray struggled. In the Dawgs’ lone loss, a 35-7 debacle at South Carolina on Oct. 6, he was just 11-of-31 for 109 yards with an interception. Although Georgia beat Florida, 17-9, three weeks later to earn this trip to Atlanta, Murray wasn’t the reason. In fact, the Bulldogs won in spite of the three INTs he threw during a 12-of-25 performance that yielded 150 yards and a touchdown pass.
Murray hasn’t been picked off in any of the four games since the Cocktail Party, but the fact that four of his seven interceptions this season came against the only two teams that are even remotely capable of playing defense at Alabama’s level is worrisome.
Murray, who also hasn’t been able to get Georgia over the hump in its past two bowl games, is trying something new this week. He imposed his own personal media blackout, presumably to restrict questions about not being a big-game quarterback from affecting his performance.
We don’t look at that as a good sign and it tipped the scales.
Opening point spread: Alabama by 7 1/2
The pick: Alabama 23-20
2) No. 14 Nebraska vs. Wisconsin in Big Ten title game at Indianapolis
Sat., Dec. 1 — 8:17 p.m. ET, FOX
The Badgers haven’t had the season they expected, losing five regular-season games and going .500 in league play. But they aren’t about to conclude that this just isn’t their year and roll over for the Cornhuskers.
It’s quite the opposite actually. This is Wisconsin’s second chance, a holiday gift like no other.
If they play their cards right, the Badgers are potentially 120 minutes of football away from being crowned Rose Bowl champions. (No Oregon in Pasadena … just Stanford or UCLA!)
Remember that Wisconsin gave Nebraska all it could handle in Lincoln on Sept. 29. The Badgers appeared headed to victory after taking a 27-10 lead in the third quarter, but the Huskers scored 20 answered points on four consecutive drives.
Wisconsin had a chance to win the game in the final minutes, but tailback Montee Ball fumbled on a fourth-and-one, allowing the Cornhuskers to run out the clock.
Ball ran for 90 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries. But in the end, his team netted only 56 rushing yards.
Nebraska had far less difficulty, rumbling for 259 yards on the ground.
That’ll even out a bit in the rematch and the game will go down to the wire. Something tells us the Badgers will go for a two-point conversion or take some chances in the fourth quarter to avoid overtime, which has been a 0-3 proposition for them this season.
Opening point spread: Nebraska by 2 1/2
The pick: Nebraska 24-23
3) No. 17 UCLA at No. 8 Stanford in Pac-12 title game
Fri., Nov. 30 — 8 p.m. ET, FOX
This prediction comes courtesy of Shane Hedani from the P101 satellite office in Maunawili, Hawai‘i.
After winning Round 1, which determined that there would be a rematch with Oregon watching on TV, Cardinal head coach David Shaw said: “I expect them to give us everything. I expect this to be a very tough, physical game. It’s going to be 10 times harder. We’re going to get their best shot.”
We share that belief. After exchanging opening drive touchdowns and holding Stanford to a trio of three-and-outs, UCLA head coach Jim Mora clearly called off the dogs.
Following the 35-17 Cardinal victory, an ornery L.A Times columnist asked Mora if he treated the contest like an NFL preseason charade in order to avoid playing Oregon and hide game plan elements from Stanford. The exchange was supremely entertaining.
After the first-quarter stalemate, who could blame Mora for going vanilla against a team that’s clearly a far easier matchup than the Ducks? Why not avoid Eugene as if the plague had broken out there? Palo Alto is beautiful this time of year.
Check how many times Mora had Jonathan Franklin run the ball on first down. The predictable play calling was designed to finish the game, not win it.
Round 2 will be a back-and-forth affair that will surprise many. In the end, Mora’s gamesmanship will come up short in a tight contest. A final clock-killing drive, showing what Stanford is made of, will seal it.
Opening point spread: Stanford by 10
The pick: Stanford 34-27
4) No. 13 Florida State vs. Georgia Tech in ACC title game at Charlotte, N.C.
Sat., Dec. 1 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Both teams are busy licking their wounds on the way to this ACC Championship Game.
The Seminoles saw their faint BCS title hope go up in flames in a 37-26 loss to Florida last Saturday, while the Yellow Jackets were brushed aside, 42-10, by Georgia on its way toward a possible BCS title game appearance.
The difference in this contest is that Florida State’s defense has the ability to bounce back from its leaky outing. Georgia Tech’s problems on that side of the ball figure to persist.
That’s not to say that the Seminoles will shut down the Yellow Jacket option attack, after allowing the Gators to roam for 240 yards on the ground, but even with the loss of defensive end Tank Carradine to a knee injury, they clearly have the athletes to keep it in check.
Look for E.J. Manuel and the rest of the FSU offense to spring a bunch of big plays to easily claim a spot in the Orange Bowl (against … see below).
Opening point spread: Florida State by 13
The pick: Florida State 37-20
5) Louisville at Rutgers
Thurs., Nov. 29 — 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Cardinals are ticketed for the ACC and the Scarlet Knights are bound for the Big Ten, but we’re still talking about the Big East here, so this predicting business is unquestionably an effort in futility.
Nevertheless, there’s important stuff going on in Piscataway. If the Scarlet Knights win, they play in their first BCS game. If the Cardinals are victorious, they’ll likely get the Orange Bowl nod.
Cardinal quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will play with a broken left wrist. The Louisville running game is equally banged up with running back Senorise Perry on the shelf (ACL). In its last two games, Louisville has rushed for a total of only 75 yards.
All of that doesn’t add up to success versus Rutgers, which is allowing only 13.7 points per game.
Opening point spread: Rutgers by 2
The pick: Rutgers 26-17